Michael Totten has been paying close attention (on site) to the recent happenings in Lebanon. If you check out his blog you’ll find many insightful reports on his time spent with Lebanese hunting for freedom. In a post today he notes:
Some of the tent-city residents have told me their goals are not only national. The goals of some of them (but not all of them) also are global. They truly believe they are resolving the clash of civilizations here in Beirut by proving that Christian and Islamic civilizations can co-exist in peace and in friendship. Lebanon has long been a bridge between East and West. In the future it may play the crucial role of a peace broker.
But it is not going to work if Lebanon cannot become a mature liberal democracy. Dictatorships notoriously use divide-and-rule tactics to pit their enemies against one another. Syria has been playing that game inside Lebanon – and on the world stage – for a long time. Terrorism is only one of the sinister byproducts of that. War is another.
In the last four years many have come to believe that the “clash of civilizations” between the Islamic world and the West will be a primary determinant in geopolitics for some time. Violence, it appears, has been endemic since the Crusades (or if one is more historically astute, since the Jihad-driven expansion of Islam after the death of Mohammed). Now in Lebanon, we’re seeing that, at least in one locale, and at least for a short time, peace seems possible.
What strikes me in Totten’s report is that he attributes this peace and friendship not to the inner convictions or dynamics of either group (Christianity or Islam) but to a shared commitment to or participation in a third tradition, liberal democracy. Is this a variant of the argument that “deep down” all peoples really want what we Americans (I say “Americans” not “Westerners” because we seem to emphasize it the most) are the fruits of liberal democracy = political choice and economic prosperity? Is this a variant of the modern argument that religion is necessarily divisive (and in a deadly way), and so must be marginalized and privatized? Does this mean that the West is winning the “clash” or is as sign, as Totten suggests, that the clash is being “resolved”? Perhaps it is an instantiation of Huntington’s “third rule for peace,” the “commonalities rule” (Clash of Civilizations, p. 320): “people in all civilizations should search for and attempt to expand the values, institutions, and practices they have in comon with the peoples of other civilizations.”